The media’s coverage of Gabby Petito’s tragic death is racist, according to . . . the media. As a recent NPR headline read — without a hint of irony — “Media Fascination With The Petito Mystery Looks Like Racism To Some Native Americans.”
If you believe these reports, the main problem with the coverage is that Gabby Petito was white — and thus, in their view, undeserving of the outsized attention that her death has received. “It’s kind of heart-wrenching, when we look at a white woman who goes missing and is able to get so much immediate attention,” a Native-American activist named Lynette Grey Bull told NPR. “It should be the same, if an African American person goes missing, or a Hispanic person goes missing, a Native American . . . we should have the same type of equal efforts that are being done in these cases.”
Yes, that’s what’s heart-wrenching about this whole affair: Not the tragic homicide of a young woman, but the fact that there’s been too much media coverage of her death vis-à-vis media coverage of missing persons of color.
This isn’t just a bad NPR one-off — it’s actually part of the narrative now. MSNBC’s Joy Reid, ever the incisive and fair-minded political commentator, devoted an entire segment in Monday’s episode of her show to denouncing “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” a phenomenon that Reid described as “the media and public fascination with missing white women . . . while ignoring cases involving people of color.” On Tuesday, “Missing White Woman Syndrome” was trending on Twitter.
There is, apparently, no event too significant, no tragedy too grievous, to escape use as a narrative bludgeon. Sure, the “logic” goes, Petito’s death may have been tragic. But what matters is not that she died in horrific and shocking circumstances. What matters is that her death highlights systemic inequalities in how we talk about deaths.
This utterly predictable routine is the result of an ideology with no concept of human dignity — no understanding of the inherent worth of the human person beyond the sum total of his or her race, gender, and sexual orientation. To these people, we are all merely positions on the intersectional hierarchy.